America at crossroads at home, on world stage
I recently visited Central Asia, the so-called “Five Stans.” These are five former Soviet Republics that bridge Asia to Europe via the “Great Silk Road.” While there, the future became increasingly obvious to me and these unfolding events did not include America.
Over the millennia, Central Asia was repeatedly invaded by China, and others, but a new starker reality is taking hold. China’s One Belt, One Road program of massive infrastructure aid in roads, bridges, dams, and industry to Central Asia includes 60 countries spanning Asia to the very doorstep of Europe.
We travelled along modern roads, bridges and tunnels financed by China and built by Chinese workers who then buy land along-side the highways and settle down creating a corridor of influence as China pushes toward Europe.
As Chinese influence in the world increases dramatically, what has been the United States’ response? We elected a television impresario who has neither the inclination nor the ability to lead the free world. Importantly, he is supported in this abdication of leadership by a significant minority of Americans.
President Trump is deliberately destroying the greatest alliance structure the world has ever seen. He rejects treaties, against the advice of knowledgeable advisors, which is turning our allies against us and weakening our defenses. He has no sense of the course of world events.
China has been the greatest beneficiary of the U.S.-led world order, but they are rejecting Western-established institutions that they had no part in creating. In their place, China is building development banks, trade regimes and mammoth global corporations that are competing with Western-led institutions and they seek to fashion the world in their own image.
Encouraged by our lack of resolve, President Xi of China recently declared, “It is time for China to take center stage.” A Chinese spokesperson added, “Mr. Trump should calm down because all the world is against him.”
And what of the American people? What do they think of this? They are exhausted by the responsibilities of world leadership, but do not consider what will follow. Chinese leadership of the world will be very different and judging by China’s heavy handedness in Africa, Asia and elsewhere, we will suffer under their control.
Since the end of World War II, generations of Americans have learned the importance of credibility in international affairs, the dangers of isolationism, and the need for a strong defense and alliance structure.
If we continue to ignore these truths, future generations of Americans will come to deplore our current foreign policy. Perhaps this is how empires die?
It is not too late to repair the damage wrought by President Trump. Key senators with responsibility for military affairs and foreign policy are re-asserting U.S. foreign policy orthodoxy. They are signaling to our allies that U.S. international leadership will continue and to please bear with us until this tempest blows over. But if Mr. Trump were to be reelected, all bets would be off.
Will a reenergized Senate save our foreign policy? We can only hope so, but make no mistake; China poses the greatest geo-political challenge to us since the end of the Soviet Union. But, China has internal contradictions that may yet doom that country. Moreover, wherever they operate, they leave a legacy of mistrust and bruised feelings. Checkbook diplomacy goes a long way, but a country’s core values are important as well.
And, fortunately, there is a deep reservoir of goodwill for America — we have been the indispensable nation for 70 years and the world continues to count on us for peace and stability. When crisis strikes somewhere in the world, global leaders don’t call Beijing or Moscow, they call Washington.
Will Americans realize that we are on the cusp of world-altering events? Will we understand that our safety and prosperity is linked with that of our allies and our continued world leadership? Again, we can only hope so.
Our Central Asian guides asked us Americans if we were studying the Chinese language. To them the future was clear. Perhaps this is good advice for your grandchildren, if Mr. Trump continues along his reckless path.
Editor’s note: Jesse Wright is a retired Marquette resident who has spent his entire career in the international arena. He has taught economics and finance at Northern Michigan University.